J.R.R. Tolkien may have fooled millions of readers with Lord of the Rings, but he was a second-rate storyteller.
So said the Nobel Committee in 1961 as they mulled over that year’s literature prize. Their secret deliberations, unseen for 50 years, have just been unsealed.
Jury member Anders Österling, a professor of literature, said Tolkien’s work “has not in any way measured up to storytelling of the highest quality.” That insult sounds even ruder in Swedish: “Resultatet har dock icke i något avseende blivit diktning av högsta klass.”
Österling was said to be the chief literature critic in the Nobel Academy at the time, so that was that. The winner was Yugoslavian writer Ivo Andri?, whose book The Bridge on the Drina has been a worldwide sensation ever since. (Hasn’t it?)
J.R.R. Tolkien’s grandchildren can take comfort in knowing that the very same year, Anders Österling also shot down authors Graham Greene, Robert Frost, and E.M. Forster (whom he called “a shadow of his former self”). Tough crowd.
The Lord of the Rings seems to have done pretty well even without a Nobel for Tolkien. So högsta klass to you too, Anders.